Top tips for growing and arranging hydrangeas
After the excitement of fabulously scented sweet peas and the glorious flushes of English roses, we are excited to welcome explosions of frothy clouds of colour to the farm as our hydrangeas come into bloom. This stunning plant is in full flower from the end of June to the end of August, but the faded blooms retain their beauty throughout the winter – whether out in the garden or dried indoors. What’s more, they are easy to grow and require little care. Inspired to give hydrangeas a go? Our founder and flower farmer Rosebie Morton explains how.
You can’t go wrong
There are several basic types of hydrangea including Hydrangea Arborescens Annabelle, Hydrangea Macrophylla, Hydrangea Paniculata and climbing hydrangeas such as Hydrangea Petiolaris. All of them add drama to the garden, either in a sweeping group, as a single architectural element or as hedging that brings a mass of summer flowers. As cut flowers they enhance any arrangement and can be dried for lasting effect.
Hydrangeas are surprisingly easy to grow – in fact, so easy, you can’t go wrong. They can cope with full sun but thrive best in semi-shade, for instance in a position with morning sun but a shady afternoon. They like a well-drained soil, but the clue to keeping them happy lies in the name – yes, they need copious water.
Hydrangea Arborescens Annabelle
These hydrangeas with their blowsy balls of lacy pink or white flowers are a favourite here on the farm. This is because we are in a frost pocket, and unlike Hydrangea Macrophylla, this variety can tolerate frost. They thrive in any soil type, and like all hydrangeas do best in semi-shade.
There are two possible pruning regimes, depending on how tall you want the plant to grow and how large you want the flower heads to be. For spectacularly large blooms – up to 25cm in diameter – prune the plant to 30cm from the ground in early spring and it will grow to about 1m by the end of the flowering season. If you want a plant that will give architectural height and structure to the back of a border, then prune lightly and your plant should grow to 2-3m tall, albeit with smaller flower heads.
Once the flowering season is over, you can leave the flower heads to fade to a more antique colour and then become skeletal through the winter – they look particularly beautiful coated in frost.
This is the mophead variety with bright blue or pink flowers that you commonly see in seaside gardens. The mopheads require milder conditions and you must leave the flower heads on throughout the winter to protect new buds from frost as the plant flowers on last year’s wood. Chop down to a fat bud in April once the danger of frost is over. The colour of the flowers depends on the acidity of the soil, with more acidic soils producing hues of purple or blue. Plants in full shade will also tend to be darker than those in sunnier spots.
Left unpruned, this spectacular hydrangea can grow to a massive 3.5m and form a small tree. With large, cone-shaped flower heads, they provide a dramatic element at back of a bed, a pretty addition to a shrubbery or a stand-alone feature. This is the other variety we grow on the farm, and among my favourites are Limelight, which starts as greeny white and fades to pink; the pale pink Magical Candle with its more airy flower heads; and Vanilla Fraise, which turns from cream to pink as it fades.
Climbing hydrangeas such as Hydrangea Petiolaris require little upkeep and grow spectacularly well even against a north-facing wall. The flowers appear after the other hydrangeas are past their peak and the leaves turn a buttery colour in autumn. The flowers of climbing hydrangeas are less easy to pick but they look fabulous in the garden.
When to pick hydrangeas
Hydrangeas have sturdy stems so they work well as cut flowers. The blooms may fade as summer progresses, but don’t be tempted to pick them too early as they will be more likely to flop once in the vase. The best point to pick them is when they have just begun to go papery and to lose their initial colour.
Drying hydrangeas will give you an arrangement that lasts through the winter. The easiest method is simply to let the water in the vase evaporate so the flower heads dry to a beautiful antique colour. Spread the flower heads out so they have air around them and if you find they are not drying quickly enough, add a bit of water to stop them from flopping.
To dry more quickly and preserve more of the initial colour, hang your flowers upside down in a cupboard.
Hydrangeas are going to be appearing our bouquets over the coming months – you can view our collection of stunning arrangements here. You can also order stem boxes of Hydrangea direct from our climate positive farm to door here. And we hope you will be inspired to experiment with growing, picking, arranging and drying this easy-upkeep yet spectacular plant.